From bench to throne: Rolen rebounds
ST. LOUIS -- Scott Rolen's second World Series ended in sweet redemption.
Banged-up and benched during the playoffs, the All-Star third baseman helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to their first championship in 24 years with a fantastic performance at the most crucial time -- all while squabbling with manager Tony La Russa.
Rolen hit .421 with a homer, three doubles and two RBIs, sealing the title with an opposite-field single in the seventh inning Friday night that drove in the final run in St. Louis' 4-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
The Cardinals took the Series four games to one, and Rolen raised his arms high and ran right toward Albert Pujols immediately after the final out. The two sluggers hugged behind the mound before they were engulfed by a mob of delirious teammates as fireworks exploded in the St. Louis sky.
"I'm not going to try to analyze it. I'm going to enjoy the moment," Rolen said.
It's easy to understand why he was so thrilled. Rolen went 0-for-15 in his first World Series two years ago, when the Cardinals were swept by the Boston Red Sox.
It was a bitter disappointment for one of the best all-around players in baseball.
"When you have the aspiration as a little kid of playing in the World Series, throwing the ball up and hitting it, you at least sneak one hit in there in your backyard," Rolen said then.
He got another chance this October -- and certainly made the most of it.
"They beat us up bad in '04," Rolen said. "You don't even expect to get back in the World Series. To get back and win it is unbelievable."
There was plenty of pressure on Rolen, too. Fighting fatigue and soreness in his surgically repaired left shoulder, he batted .188 without an RBI during two rounds of NL playoffs.
La Russa took him out of the lineup for Game 2 of the NL championship series against the New York Mets, saying Rolen's swing just didn't look right.
Rolen wasn't happy about it, and it soon seemed that he and La Russa weren't on speaking terms. Neither would comment on their relationship.
"In the Series, there's no matchups, there are no numbers," Rolen said. "You hammer it out on the field."
His stroke began to look better late in the NLCS. Rolen started to drive the ball -- he was even robbed of a two-run homer by New York's Endy Chavez in Game 7.
Those good swings continued in the World Series, with doubles to left and singles to right. His RBI single in Game 5 finally snapped an 0-for-11 postseason skid with runners in scoring position.
"Nothing means anything but what's going on right now and how everybody feels," he said.
And now, Rolen has his World Series ring.
"On paper, 2004, 2005, we probably had better teams," he said. "It's an unbelievable feeling. You see the smiles and the happiness on everybody in here. It's a great experience."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press